U.S. President Barack Obama talks with National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice aboard Marine One en route to Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England following the NATO Summit in Wales, Sept. 5, 2014 (Official White House photo by Pete Souza).

This past weekend, I had the privilege of taking part in the Harvard Extension School’s Crisis Game, a Cold War-era nuclear simulation involving some 30 graduate students and led by my colleague Tom Nichols. What was fascinating to observe was how even the prospect of a theoretical nuclear exchange was still capable of forcing a high degree of seriousness and focus among the participants, as various courses of action were debated and evaluated. Indeed, some of the participants themselves raised the question of whether U.S. national security policy today lacks the gravitas it appeared to have 30 years ago, particularly […]

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko watches a military exercise of the Ukrainian armed forces in Mykolaiv region, Ukraine, April 25, 2015 (Presidential Press Service photo by Mykola Lazarenko via AP).

The average European leader probably lacks the number of brain cells required to process the sheer amount of bad news he or she currently receives on a daily basis. This is not because they are stupid, but because there is so much dire news to digest. In the past two weeks, over 1,000 migrants have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean; there has been fresh fighting in Ukraine; and the Greek government has careened toward total bankruptcy. The European Union has responded to this torrent of crises with a mixture of big talk, half-measures and fraying tempers. At a summit […]

A Pakistani Honor Guard at the Army’s Martyr’s Monument, Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Jan. 21, 2010 (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison).

Last week, Pakistan agreed to send ships to help enforce a U.N.-approved arms embargo against Houthi rebels in Yemen, but declined a request by Saudi Arabia to send attack aircraft or troops to join the Saudi-led coalition there. In an email interview, Ayesha Siddiqa, an independent security analyst in Pakistan, discussed Pakistan’s military capabilities. WPR: What are the Pakistani military’s size, training priorities, capabilities and operational strengths? Ayesha Siddiqa: The Pakistani military is a volunteer force and the seventh-largest military in the world. It is primarily dedicated to conventional warfighting. There are 617,000 active duty personnel in the Pakistani military, […]

Yemeni women pray during a rally marking the third anniversary of the revolution, Sanaa, Yemen, Feb. 7, 2014 (AP photo by Hani Mohammed).

When Kawkab Althaibani demonstrated in Change Square in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, during the 2011 protests against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, her heart, she recalls, “was full of hope.” Today, six weeks after Houthi militias surrounded her house in Sanaa looking for her husband, an outspoken critic of the group, she is in Istanbul, where she fled the insecurity of Yemen’s civil war to seek asylum for her and her family. Althaibani is just one of many Yemeni women who once believed that the 2011 uprising was the harbinger of a more moderate, more inclusive and peaceful Yemen. Despite violence from […]

Iraqi security forces and tribal fighters regain control of the northern neighborhoods, after overnight heavy clashes with Islamic State group militants, Ramadi, Iraq, April 23, 2015 (AP photo).

When U.S. President Barack Obama announced his strategy for countering the so-called Islamic State (IS) last September, it was met with an immediate volley of criticism, most of it asserting that the president’s approach was too timid. Incensed by IS’ horrors, the critics called for large-scale American military action. Sen. Ted Cruz, for instance, demanded that the Obama administration “destroy” IS within 90 days. When told by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that this was impossible, Cruz issued a press release saying the general was wrong. Now that the 2016 presidential race has kicked off, […]

Angolans at the beach in front of the capital skyline, marked by new construction, Luanda, Angola, March 8, 2010 (photo by Flickr user mp3ief, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license).

Forty years after its independence from Portugal and 13 years since the end of the civil war that immediately followed, Angola has made great progress in consolidating peace and stability, but continues to face many challenges. Foremost among them is managing an economic crisis, exacerbated by staggering inequality, while avoiding the potential social and political fallout it could generate. The country’s political landscape could also prove perilous: The ruling party, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), faces both a determined opposition and a potential internal battle over who will succeed longtime President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. The […]

Meeting of NATO defense ministers, NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 5, 2015 (NATO photo).

Whether it was the deaths in the Mediterranean Sea of hundreds of migrants and asylum-seekers desperate to enter European territory or the latest atrocities carried out by the Islamic State in their Libyan enclave, this week’s headlines could not have come at a worse time for the leadership of the North Atlantic alliance. Over the past year, NATO finally seemed on the verge of rediscovering a common purpose after two decades of trying out for different roles—a return to its original task of putting a brake on the westward spread of Russian influence and control from the Eurasian core into […]

Afghan security personnel gather at the site of a suicide attack, Kabul, Afghanistan, April 10, 2015 (AP photo by Rahmat Gul).

Most days in March, pairs of young men mounted Honda 125 motorbikes to ride out of a mud-walled compound in the town of Muslimbagh, in Pakistan’s province of Baluchistan. Turbans wrapped around their faces to ward off the dust, they headed for the Afghan border, 50 miles away. These young men, recruits from the marginalized Pashtun communities of the borderlands, were riding off to be fighters for the Taliban. Most of their peers who have not taken up arms toil as casual laborers for the meagerest of pay. By joining a dilgai, or Taliban armed group, the young Pashtun men […]

Iranians celebrate the announcement that Iran and six world powers have reached a preliminary nuclear agreement, Tehran, Iran, April 2, 2015 (AP photo by Ebrahim Noroozi).

The recent framework agreement between Iran and the P5+1—the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China—removed a major hurdle toward resolving the standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program. Though a final deal between Iran and the West before the self-imposed June 30 deadline is far from guaranteed, it cannot be excluded and now seems more reachable than ever before. But would such an agreement also bring about a broader rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran? And what changes to Iran’s regional policy can be expected if a nuclear deal is reached and sanctions on the Islamic Republic are […]

U.N. peacekeepers from Niger stand at attention at the Niger Battalion Base, Ansongo, Mali, Feb. 25, 2015 (U.N. photo Marco Dormino).

The United Nations is an organization that is willing to learn from failure. This is fortunate, because it fails quite a lot. The U.N. has absorbed the lessons of previous catastrophes, such as the Balkan wars and the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s, and now deploys peacekeepers far more professionally than in that nightmarish era. In the near future, it will face a reckoning over more recent failures, as its efforts to bring peace to countries destabilized by the Arab revolutions—most notably in Syria but also in Libya, Yemen and Mali—have veered off course, costing thousands of lives in the […]

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gestures during an interview with the BBC, Damascus, Syria, Feb. 10, 2015 (AP photo/SANA).

In late March, Syria’s northern provincial capital of Idlib fell to Islamist rebels. A week later, both the self-declared Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, advanced into the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, in a suburb just six miles south of central Damascus. Despite these setbacks for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, he has continued a choreographed international media campaign, going on French television for his latest interview with a Western news outlet so that he could present himself as the necessary partner for a political solution to Syria’s civil war, assert his strength and deny […]

Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division gather their equipment before boarding a CH-47F Chinook, Nawa Valley, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, May 25, 2014 (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston).

For American defense professionals, the 1990s now seem like a distant dream. The United States was fresh off a stunning military victory over Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s forces in Kuwait. The Soviet Union, long Washington’s bête noire, had crumbled. The American economy was robust, churning out important technological innovations one after another. In these halcyon times, U.S. military leaders and defense officials predicted that they would master what they called the “revolution in military affairs,” thereby attaining battlefield superiority over every possible enemy. Since the U.S. would be able to impose its will on opponents, there was little need to […]

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko meets with fired Dnipropetrovsk Gov. Ihor Kolomoysky, Kiev, Ukraine, March 25, 2015 (AP photo by Mikhail Palinchak).

On Wednesday, Ukrainian politician Oleh Kalashnikov was found dead with gunshot wounds in Kiev. The next day, the journalist and former politician Oles Buzyna was killed in a drive-by shooting outside his home in the capital. The two murders were just the latest in a string of deaths of leading Ukrainian opposition figures in recent months. Some of these may have been suicides, while others were clearly murders, but all of the dead were supporters of Ukraine’s former President Viktor Yanukovych, a Russian client who was driven from power during the Maidan protests last year. Buzyna was an outspoken critic […]

Russian air force helicopters fly over Red Square during a Victory Day parade, which commemorates the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany, Moscow, Russia, May 9, 2014 (AP photo by Denis Tyrin).

Russia’s military has experienced a remarkable recovery during the past decade. This is most evident in the success of Russia’s swift occupation of Crimea last year and ongoing support for separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. Equally impressive, if less visible, is the rebound of the country’s military-industrial complex, referred to by the Russian initials VPK, which suffered heavily from the break-up of the Soviet Union’s integrated defense industries and the Russian government’s budgetary difficulties during the 1990s. In its worst years, under former President Boris Yeltsin, the VPK was unable to manufacture more than a few weapons systems each year. […]

Saudi King Salman meets with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 1, 2015 (AP Photo/Saudi Press Agency).

While Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi has his eyes on Yemen, with plans apparently hatched to commit Egyptian troops to a possible Saudi-led ground invasion there, the Sinai Peninsula still smolders. Last Thursday, militants attacked checkpoints in the northern Sinai near the Israel-Gaza border, killing 15 soldiers and two civilians. Threats to Egypt’s domestic security linger, but last week, el-Sisi said that Egypt was involved in Saudi Arabia’s campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen because “it was not possible for us to abandon the security of the Gulf.” That being said, Saudi Arabia and its fellow members of the Gulf Cooperation […]

Communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels hold weapons in formation in the hinterlands of Davao, Philippines, Dec. 26, 2013 (AP photo).

In late February, communist rebels killed five Philippine soldiers in an ambush in the northern Ilocos Sur province. In an email interview, Patricio Abinales, a professor of Asian studies at the School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, discussed the Philippine communist insurgency. WPR: What are the objectives of the New People’s Army, and how has their insurgency evolved over the past decade? Patricio Abinales: The New People’s Army (NPA) is the armed group of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), established in 1968 to wage a Maoist-style “protracted people’s war” aimed at “surrounding the […]

U.S. President Barack Obama walks to the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, to speak about the breakthrough in the Iranian nuclear talks, April 2, 2015 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

Is U.S. President Barack Obama the last great Cold War statesman? Obama aspired to be a transformational figure in U.S. politics. Yet when it comes to international affairs, he often harks back to America’s old confrontation with the Soviet Union. Justifying the last-minute push for a nuclear deal with Iran last week, he borrowed a line from former President John F. Kennedy: “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” After Iran agreed to the framework deal Thursday, Obama returned to the history books. Speaking at the White House, he quoted Kennedy again and […]

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